Once again, Josh Duggar is in the news. And, once again, my heart is heavy.
Last week it was revealed that Josh had a paid account on Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking affairs. Josh subsequently released a statement in which he admitted being “unfaithful” to his wife Anna and having a “secret addiction” to pornography—implying that he is, perhaps, a sex addict.
I wouldn’t doubt it at all. I see the patterns clearly.
Josh’s story is very personal for me. In many ways, I have lived this story and continue to live it. I was raised in a fundamentalist household. I was a victim of sexual abuse. My family fell apart after my father’s indiscretions became too much to bear. I know too well what is happening in Anna Duggar’s world right now.
In light of this, here are 10 things I wish everyone understood about sex addiction:
- Sex addition is real. The term “addiction” in this case is controversial; some people prefer “compulsion.” No matter what people choose to call it, it is a real physiological and psychological condition. Just like compulsive eating or alcoholism can be used to cope with stress, so can sex. The dopamine feedback cycles and resulting insensitivity a sex addict experiences through their behavior are the same as those experienced by other kinds of addicts.
- Sex addiction is a coping strategy. Whether it is to assuage low self-esteem, relieve feelings of neglect or abandonment, or avoid the stress and boredom of daily responsibilities, compulsive sex is a way for some to momentarily escape a deep inner pain.
- Sex addicts aren’t happy people. Engaging in the compulsion causes intense shame and only worsens any negative feelings. Sex addicts differ from high-libido individuals in that their enjoyment of sex is stymied. Rather than coming away from encounters feeling satisfied, addicts often feel disappointed and hungrier for more once the rush has worn off. As they sink further into dysfunction, they seek more encounters more frequently to cope with the rising toll on their mental, physical and relational health. Encounters gradually become riskier in order to induce a greater rush.
- Sex addicts feel entitled to their behavior. This is true of most addicts. As much as the behavior may be hurting themselves and their victims, they convince themselves that the behavior is necessary and even justified in light of their pain. Change seems difficult or impossible, especially if the addict has a good reputation or a position of authority in their community. Addicts will lie, deceive, engage in false repentance or make partial confessions to protect their secret lifestyle.
- There’s nothing a spouse can do to keep a sex addict from straying. Giving a sex addict as much sex as they want or consenting to riskier sex acts cannot and will not satisfy them. The rush of the forbidden—watching hardcore porn, starting an affair, soliciting a prostitute—is simply too appealing. Even before the possibilities of the marital bed have been exhausted, the addict will begin looking elsewhere for their fix.
- The addict’s spouse is not responsible for the addiction. Lack of marital intimacy doesn’t turn people into sex addicts, and increased intimacy doesn’t fix it. There are much deeper issues involved—usually stemming from emotional trauma or mental illness.
- Sex addiction requires professional help to overcome. It won’t be solved by a few tearful prayers at the altar. A sex addict has some serious emotional, behavioral and spiritual work to do. A licensed therapist needs to be involved. This is especially true when the addiction has included the molestation of children.
- Sex addiction is extremely destructive—for everyone involved. The shame, anxiety, stigma, annihilation of trust, financial strain, STIs, loss of faith—all of these become issues when sex addition is uncovered. The crisis can be emotionally paralyzing. Families of sex addicts suffer tremendously and deserve the community’s full support.
Sometimes, divorce is the only way to hold a sex addict accountable. In some cases, choosing to continue in the marital relationship only enables the addict to keep acting out. It can provide enough security to make the addict think they don’t need to change, and a cover from which they can continue their activities while keeping their public image intact. When the marriage is dissolved, there’s no place for the addict to hide, and they are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Divorce should automatically occur if the addict has molested any children, or has proven to be a danger to children. In that case, the marriage is only providing access to victims or potential victims. Children deserve safety and space to heal.
- Recovery from sex addiction is a life-long process. Just like overcoming obesity, recovering from addiction requires permanent changes in emotional regulation, behavior and lifestyle. A temporary stint in rehab can teach necessary skills but doesn’t “cure” anyone. The addict must take responsibility for their behavior and put plans in place to keep themselves clean every day. An addict that rejects a long-term recovery plan is not fully repentant and will eventually reoffend.
Josh needs help, and his family needs many prayers.
About April Kelsey
April Kelsey is the author of the blog Revolutionary Faith. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two sons and two cats. Her life goal is to put the final nail in the coffin that is Christian fundamentalism.